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Photograph of Kazuo Inamori

Oral history interview with Kazuo Inamori

  • 2010-Apr-19
  • 2010-Nov-13

Oral history interview with Kazuo Inamori

  • 2010-Apr-19
  • 2010-Nov-13

Kazuo Inamori was born in 1932 in Kagoshima, Japan, which lies on the southern tip of Kyushu Island—the southernmost of Japan's four largest islands. He was one of seven children. During elementary school, he was a very spirited child who loved science and also showed an interest in the machines that were in his father's printing shop. When he was in the 6th grade, he contracted tuberculosis. During his illness he read a book by a Buddhist monk, and this sparked his interest in religion. During World War II, his family's home was destroyed by an air raid and the family afterward had to live very modestly. Though he had a scholarship, in order to afford high school and supplement his family's income, Inamori made and sold paper bags. Inamori had high grades in high school in both physics and mathematics. His mathematics teacher, who had previously been the principal of his junior high, was much impressed. This teacher not only persuaded Inamori to continue on with his studies beyond high school, but he also visited Inamori's parents and convinced them to allow Inamori to go to a university. Inamori enrolled at Kagoshima University, where he majored in organic chemistry. Graduating from Kagoshima University, Inamori's first job was in research and development at Shofu Industries in Kyoto, Japan, where he quickly demonstrated enormous skill. He developed fosterite, the first person in Japan to do so, to serve as an insulator for high frequency radio waves. He then designed the mass production of high frequency insulator components made of fosterite. This led him to invent the electric tunnel kiln, used in sintering, which was then widely adopted in the industry. Despite these successes at Shofu, after a strong difference of opinion with his superior, he decided to leave the company. Learning this, several of his co-workers joined him. In 1959, together with seven other colleagues, Inamori established Kyoto Ceramic, which later became known as Kyocera. Inamori quickly secured for his company a contract from Matsushita Electronics Industries (now Panasonic), which called for Kyoto Ceramic to manufacture U-shaped Kelcimas (high-frequency insulator components for TV picture tubes). However, worried that his company was too dependent on Matsushita, Inamori sought orders from established Japanese manufacturers. Unfortunately, at that time his efforts did not meet with success, largely due to the Keiretsu (company affiliation) business network system. This led him to seek opportunities in the open markets of the United States. His first US customer was Fairchild Semiconductor, which placed orders for silicon transistor headers. Then IBM placed large-volume orders for ceramic substrates. Inamori continued to develop and refine Cerdip packages and multilayer packages for the US market. Kyocera's fine ceramics business continued to grow and contributed greatly to the development of the US semiconductor industry. To avoid dependence on the semiconductor market, Inamori diversified Kyocera. Initially he turned Kyocera to the manufacture of photovoltaic cells, cutting tools, and bioceramics—all employing fine ceramics technologies. Later, however, through various mergers and acquisitions, he moved Kyocera into other areas—especially the manufacture of electronic information equipment, e. g. laptops, peripheral equipment, and telecommunications equipment. When Japan's telecommunications industry was deregulated in 1984, Inamori decided to establish DDI Corporation (Daini Denden) to compete against NTT (Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corporation), which up to then had monopolized the Japanese telecommunications market. Not having any infrastructure in place, DDI was forced to rely on microwave communications to establish long distance telecommunication networks. Several years later, the Japanese government opened mobile communications to competition, and Inamori decided that DDI should enter into the cell phone business. This further contributed to DDI's growth and evolution. In 2000 DDI merged with KDD (Kokusai Denshin Denwa) and IDO (Nippn Idou Tsushin Corporation, which had been started by Toyota), to form KDDI, which today is the second largest comprehensive telecommunications company in Japan. In 1984 Inamori also established the Inamori Foundation based on his rationale that we have no higher calling than to serve the greater good of humankind and society. One of the main functions of the foundation is awarding the annual Kyoto Prize, which honors those who have made extraordinary contributions to science, civilization, and the spirituality of humankind. Inamori has also established the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio), which awards the Inamori Ethics Prize to those who practice model ethical leadership and have contributed significantly to the betterment of global society and mankind. In 2010, the Japanese government asked Inamori to take the helm of JAL (Japan Airlines) and reconstruct this bankrupt firm. Responding to this special request, Inamori became chairman of JAL. In this capacity, he has focused considerable effort on educating JAL employees, changing their attitudes toward work and customers, as well as on instilling the ailing airline with his innovative management philosophy. By his actions he has been able to strengthen customer service and has quickly turned around and improved JAL's business performance. Inamori attributes his overall success to his philosophy of love and caring. His motto is “Respect the Divine and Love People.” In the end, he gives this advice to global leaders who face many challenges: “Disregard personal egos and act for the greater good and happiness of humanity based on your conscience.”

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 135 pages
  • 8 h 20 m 47 s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewers

Thomas R. Tritton was the second president and CEO of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Prior to CHF, Tritton served as the twelfth president of Haverford College. His academic field is cancer chemotherapy and his work is represented in over 150 publications. Before Haverford, he was a professor of pharmacology for twelve years each at Yale University and the University of Vermont. At the University of Vermont he also served as deputy director of the Vermont Comprehensive Cancer Center and as vice provost of the university. Tritton currently serves on the boards of the Fox Chase Cancer Center, Ohio Wesleyan University, and the Greater Philadelphia Life Sciences Congress. He is also a member of the Corporation of Haverford College. In 2007, before assuming the CHF presidency, Tritton was at Harvard University, where he held the title of “President in Residence” at the Graduate School of Education. He worked with graduate students in higher education, wrote and taught about leadership and the college presidency, and also designed a new course on social justice.

Richard Ulrych was the director of institutional grants and strategic projects at the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0664

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • January 30, 1932
  • Kagoshima City, Japan
  • August 24, 2022
  • Kyoto, Japan


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1955 Kagoshima Daigaku Bachelor of Engineering Applied Chemistry

Professional Experience

Kyoto Ceramic Co. Ltd.

  • 1959 Founder
  • 1966 President

Kyocera International, Inc.

  • 1969 Founder

Inamori Zaidan

  • 1984 President

DDI Corporation

  • 1984 Appointed Chairman of the Board
  • 1997 Non Representative Director, Founder, and Chairman Emeritus
  • 2000 Chairman Emeritus

Kyocera Company

  • 1985 Appointed Chairman of the Board
  • 1997 Non Representative Director, Founder, and Chairman Emeritus

Kansai Cellular Telephone Company Ltd

  • 1987 Founder and Chairman of the Board
  • 1997 Non Representative Director and Chairman Emeritus

DDI Pocket Telephone Inc.

  • 1994 Founder and Chairman of the Board

Hotel Kyocera Corporation

  • 1994 Founder and Chairman of the Board

KDDI Corporation

  • 2001 Adviser of KDDI Corporation

Seiwa Social Welfare Association

  • 2001 President

Inamori Social Welfare Foundation

  • 2003 President

Japan Airlines Corporation

  • 2010 Chairman and special adviser to the cabinet
  • 2011 Representative Director, Chairman


Year(s) Award
1972 The 18th Okochi Memorial Grand Production Prize
1974 The 16th Commendation by the Director of State for Scienceand Technology
1979 Honorary Citizen of San Diego County, California, U. S. A.
1984 National Medals of Honor with Purple Ribbon
1984 Foreign Member, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, Sweden
1988 The Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs, Babson College, USA
1988 Honorary Doctorate, Science, University of Denver, USA
1988 Honorary Doctorate, Humane Letters, Alfred University, USA
1990 Honorary Citizenship of Shilong Town, Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, China
1991 Jason Ammons Free Enterprise Award, Coastal Carolina College, USA
1995 T. Keith Glennan Lecturer, Case Western Reserve University, USA
1995 Henry Townley Heald Award, Illinois Institute of Technology, USA
1995 Honorary Doctorate, Science, Cranfield University, UK
1996 Honorary Citizen of Dongguan City, China
1996 Doctor of Humane Letters, University of San Diego, USA
1997 The 1997 Distinguished Leadership Award in Japan Society of Boston, USA
1998 Lifetime of Innovation Award of the International Union of Materials Research Societies, USA
1999 Honorary Citizen of Asuncion, Paraguay
1999 Frontiers of Science-Rustum Roy Lecture, The American Ceramic Society, USA
1999 John Francis McMahon Lecturer, Alfred University, USA
1999 Person of the Year, The US Chamber of Commerce in Japan, Japan
1999 Honorary Doctorate, Kagoshima University, Japan
1999 Visiting Professor, Nankai University, China
1999 Distinguished Lifetime Member, The American Ceramic Society, USA
2000 National Order of the Southern Cross, Brazil
2000 Honorary Professor, Xinjiang University, China
2000 Visiting Professor, Sun Yat-Sen University, China
2000 Foreign Associate, National Academy of Engineering, USA
2001 Honorary Citizenship of Guiyang City, Guizhou Province, China
2001 Honorary Doctorate, Science, The Pennsylvania State University, USA
2001 Honorary Professor, Northeast Normal University, China
2001 Honorary Chairman, the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry
2001 Senior Advisor, China Friendship Foundation for Peace and Development (Inamori-Kyocera Western Development Scholarship Fund), China
2001 Economic Advisor for the Tianjin Municipal Government, China
2002 Concurrent Professorship, Nanjin University, China
2002 Trustee Emeritus, Carnegie Institution of Washington, U. S. A. (Trustee, 1990-2002)
2003 The 2003 Andrew Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, USA
2004 Honorary Consul, Republic of Paraguay
2004 Honorary President, Honorary Professor, Jingdezhen CeramicInstitute, China
2004 Envoy of Sino-Japanese Friendship, China-Japan Friendship Association, China
2005 Honorary Citizenship of Jingdezhen, China
2006 Honorary Doctorate, Engineering, Kyushu University, Japan
2006 Honorary Doctorate, Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, USA
2007 Herb Klein Civic Leadership Award, USA
2009 The Entrepreneur for the World Award, France
2010 Honorary Doctorate, Kyoto Institute of Technology, Japan
2010 Chairman of the board of directors, Kyoto International Conference Center
2011 International Citizens Award, Japan America Society of Southern California, USA
2011 Othmer Gold Medal, Chemical Heritage Foundation, USA
2011 Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science, San Diego State University, USA

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The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

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